KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--In an earlier post, we reported that as of 21 July 2021, there were 287 positive Covid cases. 13 Orang Asli villages were in EMCO lockdown. And the total Orang Asli deaths due to Covid was 19. These are official figures.
Since then a small group  – Reita of Gerai OA, Bah Tony and Colin of COAC – have been monitoring the Covid situation among the Orang Asli.
Information and data are gleaned from the daily updates by the Ministry of Health and various postings in the social media – including the JAKOA websites, the discussions in various Orang Asli groups, as well as direct communication from those dealing directly with the Covid situation in the Orang Asli community.

The data on Orang Asli is not always flagged as such, and some Orang Asli clusters also include numbers who are not Orang Asli or even non-citizens.
It is difficult to tease out the true numbers but what cannot be denied is that it is now widespread in rural and, increasingly, interior villages too.

But we should add that these are the minimum or 'lower-end' estimated numbers.


The statistics show an increasingly alarming situation. Since late July 2021, there has been an increase in cases & deaths.

In the span of just one month, the number of Covid-positive cases has climbed more than 10 times from 287 on 20 July 2021 to 3,293.

Another 27 Orang Asli have died since then, bringing the total number of Orang Asli Covid-deaths to 49. Some of the deceased are personally known to us, bringing the situation to a very personal level.

At least 60 Orang Asli villages have been subject to EMCO lockdowns since the pandemic began. Others have been subjected to spending time in quarantine centers. Young children, including a 9-month baby, seemed not to be spared as well.


The majority of the cases come from villages in the rural-fringe, where the Orang Asli have access to centres of employment.
Villages adjacent to plantations run higher risks as they once did with Chikugunya – contracting it from plantation workers. Also, vegetable farms in the Cameron Highlands region were responsible for the Pos Brooke and Terisu clusters.

Covid-positive Orang Asli returning to their villages for various reasons – including to attend funerals or to escape from quarantining – has been the cause of a few clusters arising from close contact with their village-mates.
Invariably, the close-knit nature of Orang Asli communities – which makes social distancing within the village confines almost impracticable – is a factor that has caused the quick spread of the disease.

Among the more ‘disturbing’ clusters are those in the Batang Padang district (Tapah, Bidor and the road to Cameron Highlands), Pos Iskandar (Tasek Bera) and Rompin in Pahang, and several villages in Negeri Sembilan.
New clusters have emerged in Kampung Peta in Johor, Raub in Pahang, and in Sepang and Kuala Langat in Selangor. In all, at least 32 clusters have been formally identified, with some clusters having 7-20 villages in them.


Some communities seem to have let their guard down, allowing outsiders, both well-wishers and reckless individuals, to enter their areas, with or without permission.
Some non-Orang Asli individuals, including those who have not been vaccinated, also see no harm in entering Orang Asli areas for their ‘work’.
And in at least one case, two outsiders flouted the law and SOPs to do some recreational fishing in an interior Orang Asli area!

Nevertheless, seeing the worsening Covid situation in the country, Orang Asli communities have now begun to re-barricade their villages from unnecessary outside visitors.
And for those who can, they have gone back to their isolate-and-retreat strategy – which was effective during the first two MCOs.


The relatively low vaccination rate, especially prior to July 2021, had contributed to the increased number of cases needing hospitalisation, and causing deaths.
For a variety of cultural and organisational reasons, many Orang Asli were reluctant to be vaccinated.

Nevertheless, with a stepped-up information campaign, and with communities seeing first-hand the (speedy) ruin that the virus can bring to their lives, more Orang Asli communities now appear to be open to vaccination.
In the past month, to the credit of the authorities, there has been a 337 percent increase in the number of Orang Asli who now have had at least one dose of the vaccine (either Pfizer or Sinovac).
That is, to date 76,075 Orang Asli have had at least one dose of the vaccine. This is 52.8 percent of the total number (144,180) of Orang Asli eligible to be vaccinated.
The hope is that the infections among the Orang Asli, and everyone in the country, are checked and controlled from spreading.
The fear is that if it reaches the more interior villages, the infectivity rate there would be much higher, and it would be very difficult to treat, contain and support those communities.

As it is, because of the pandemic, care of non-Covid Orang Asli patients is on the back-burner. Some of the villagers we know (who have cancer or who suffered a stroke) are finding it hard to get to hospital. Others had to reschedule follow-ups.
*Colin Nicholas is Founder and Coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)*